Rarely do teachers get feedback from college professors about how their former students are performing in college. Alumna Tessa Steenwinkel, Class of 2017 and currently a sophomore at Michigan Technological University, recently wrote her MCDS teachers, informing them of the scientific research she conducted, which led to her being included as co-author along with two professors of the book, Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast. Not only did she contribute significantly to the research on this book about fruit flies in her role as laboratory manager, but she also included a children’s scientific outreach component in the form of a bedtime story. “I have forced my creativeness to the near maximum and put together this bedtime story for very young kids. I am very proud of how it came together and so honored to be co-author on the book,” Tessa wrote us. Tessa will visit MCDS in the near future and read her story to our lower school students.
Detail-oriented research, a work ethic driven by the knowledge that effort may be more important than ability, and creative and critical thinking are hallmarks of a MCDS education that have actualized for Tessa in her second year of college. When Tessa wrote to her teachers, she had copied her professor, Dr. Thomas Werner, who unsolicitedly felt compelled to follow up with an e-mail to our teachers: “I would like to add that Tessa is the best undergraduate student I have ever had working for me, and I had close to 100 in the past 8 years. This is me thanking you for creating a learning environment, in which students can unfold to become a superstar student like Tessa.”
Tessa’s work ethic and go-getter attitude are most evident in this description of her role as co-author in the book: “Tessa realized that one can do great research using fruit flies when she visited Thomas’ lab in spring 2017 during Open House at Michigan Tech. Thomas told her if she e-mailed him, he would send her a copy of his book Drosophilids of the Midwest and Northeast (Version 1.0). A couple of days later, Tessa typed up a short e-mail, asking for a copy of the book and maybe a spot in Thomas’ lab. An hour and a half later, she received an e-mail back with a promise for a copy of the book and a request to join his research team. Tessa has been working in Thomas’ lab since day one of her undergraduate experience at Michigan Tech. She rose in quick steps from a dishwashing help to a research assistant, then to the lab manager, and finally became the new co-author of Version 2.0 of this book.”
In follow-up correspondence with Dr. Werner, he made it abundantly clear that Tessa’s high school preparedness for higher education is unparalleled. “If you have students who would like to come to Michigan Tech, they would be my first choice to work in my lab. I am very impressed by the outcome of your educational program, as evidenced by Tessa’s knowledge and maturity. Let me illustrate this point to you with a fresh example: Yesterday, I had a brainstorming session with Tessa about her Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship proposal, which we just started working on. So I explained to her how to write the introduction, that we need a catchy first sentence, then deliver the known facts, followed by a gap of knowledge, and so on. Tessa nodded as if she had known this already. So I stopped and asked her in disbelief if she knew all of this already, and she replied “Yes”. My jaw dropped, and I asked her where she learned it. Tessa replied that she learned in high school. If you would like to know when and where I learned these facts: it was when I started as an assistant professor 8 years ago! I could go on and write a hundred pages more about Tessa, but think you get the idea that I am very impressed,” Dr. Werner wrote us.
On a final note, I think this anecdote also illustrates two additional significant MCDS strengths. Firstly, Tessa clearly demonstrated her gratitude and respect for her MCDS teachers—an indicator of the close relationships our students and teachers have with each other. Secondly, Tessa’s excellent experience at Michigan Tech University underscores the value of our college counseling program that stresses “best fit” or “best match” for each individual student.